Annal: 2012 Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction

Results of the Governor General's Literary Award in the year 2012.

Book:Leonardo and the Last Supper

Leonardo and the Last Supper

Ross King

Milan, 1496 and forty-four-year-old Leonardo da Vinci has a reputation for taking on commissions and failing to complete them. He is in a state of professional uncertainty and financial difficulty. For eighteen months he has been painting murals in both the Sforza Castle in Milan and the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The latter project will become the Last Supper, a complex mural that took a full three years to complete on a surface fifteen feet high by twenty feet wide. Not only had he never attempted a painting of such size, but he had no experience whatsoever in painting in the physically demanding medium of fresco.

For more than five centuries the Last Supper has been an artistic, religious and cultural icon. The art historian Kenneth Clark has called it ’the keystone of European art’, and for a century after its creation it was regarded as nothing less than…[more]

Book:Into the Silence

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

Wade Davis

The definitive story of the British adventurers who survived the trenches of World War I and went on to risk their lives climbing Mount Everest.

On June 6, 1924, two men set out from a camp perched at 23,000 feet on an ice ledge just below the lip of Everest’s North Col. George Mallory, thirty-seven, was Britain’s finest climber. Sandy Irvine was a twenty-two-year-old Oxford scholar with little previous mountaineering experience. Neither of them returned.

Drawing on more than a decade of prodigious research, bestselling author and explorer Wade Davis vividly re-creates the heroic efforts of Mallory and his fellow climbers, setting their significant achievements in sweeping historical context: from Britain’s nineteen-century imperial ambitions to the war that shaped Mallory’s generation. Theirs was a country broken, and the Everest expeditions emerged as a powerful symbol of national redemption and hope. In Davis’s rich exploration, he creates a timeless portrait of these remarkable men and their extraordinary times.

Book:The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca

The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca

Carol Bishop-Gwyn

Born into a working-class family in 1921, Celia Franca, though a capable dancer, was an unlikely candidate for ballet greatness. But Celia possessed a drive that was almost unrivalled, and went on to become one of the most important figures in Canadian ballet in the twentieth century.

Franca grew up in London, England, and started dancing when she was four, ultimately becoming a star performer with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. When a group from Toronto was hopeful of establishing a major ballet, they brought Celia across the Atlantic to be the founder. Celia went on to build the company, the National Ballet of Canada, into a major cultural force in Canada.

Commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the National Ballet of Canada, The Pursuit of Perfection tells of the battles, the heartbreaks, the successes, and the accolades Celia and the Ballet shared.

Book:A Thousand Farewells

A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter's Journey From Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring

Nahlah Ayed

In 1976, Nahlah Ayed’s family gave up their comfortable life in Winnipeg for the squalor of a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. The transition was jarring, but it was from this uncomfortable situation that Ayed first observed the people whose heritage she shared. The family returned to Canada when she was thirteen, and Ayed ignored the Middle East for many years. But the First Gulf War and the events of 9/11 reignited her interest. Soon she was reporting from the region full-time, trying to make sense of the wars and upheavals that have affected its people and sent so many of them seeking a better life elsewhere.

In A Thousand Farewells, Ayed describes with sympathy and insight the myriad ways in which the Arab people have fought against oppression and loss as seen from her own early days witnessing protests in Amman, and the wars, crackdowns, and uprisings she has reported on in countries across the region. This is the heartfelt and personal chronicle of a journalist who has devoted much of her career to covering one of the world’s most vexing regions.

Book:What We Talk About When We Talk About War

What We Talk About When We Talk About War

Noah Richler

Did Lester B. Pearson get it wrong? The Liberal prime minister envisioned Canada as a nation of peacekeepers, and won the Nobel Prize for his vision. However, throughout the last decade, Canada’s identity crisis has deepened. The concept of the Canadian soldier as peacekeeper has been transformed into one of confident and able war-maker. We are told we are, and must be, a warrior nation.

In What We Talk About When We Talk About War, Noah Richler examines the rhetoric of conflict, how story and information is used to convince a society to pursue a particular path, or not. This clear-eyed polemic looks at the narrative employed by politicians and the military and takes the media to task for our revised national mythology and re-interpretation of the events of past wars. Richler suggests that our changing narrative about war speaks volumes about our collective consciousness and how we have conceived and redefined ourselves as a nation as we talked ourselves into, through, and ultimately out of our participation in war.

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